“Archaic Torso of Apollo” by Rainer Marie Rilke … and your Wednesday Writing Prompt

A portrait of poet Rainer Marie Rilke (1875-1926) painted two years after his death by Leonid Pasternak

Ekphrastic poetry is the tantalizing intersection of the art of poetry and the visual arts. HERE‘s an example of one mine that draws on both art and a traditional Chinese Buddhist allegory.

The poem featured below is by Rainer Marie Rilke (1875-1926), Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist. I am particularly enamoured of it.

The translation is by Stephen Mitchell  and is the best I’ve read. Find the poem in Mitchell’s translation of The Selected Poetry of Rainer Marie Rilke.

There are many stunning features to Archaic Torso of Apollo. It’s certainly meditative and almost prayerful and yet if it is a prayer it is oddly delivered to a dead and broken god. The poem suggests wholeness even though the statue is fragmented. Perhaps most striking, we are somewhat surprised by the turn the Rilke takes in the end.

You will note also that this poem is not simple physical observation. It recognizes something that is part of our history, our culture and mythology, and yet somehow is not earthbound. It points to the ethical and ineffable.

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

– Rainer Marie Rilke

The photograph of the Rilke portrait is in the public domain.


This week pick one of your favorite works of art to write about. Take your time and enjoy the exercise. If you feel comfortable, share your poem or a link to it in the comments section below.  All work shared on theme will be published here next Tuesday.